Utopiaand radical Political Thought
Utopiaand radical Political Thought
Theconcept of utopia has been one of the most explored in thecontemporary human society. It underlines an imaginary state ofthings or place where everything stands perfect with regard toaspects such as conditions, customs, laws and politics. Indeed, itdescribes an imaginary society in which social justice is attainedalongside the principles necessary for guaranteeing it. Of particularnote is the fact that it is a symbol of the hopes and dreams of alarge number of people. This concept was adopted Thomas More’snovel titled Utopia (1551), in which he demonstrated an ideal societythat was founded on political and economic prosperity and equalism,as well as a place in which misery and poverty had been eliminated.Needless to say, the adoption of this concept into political thoughtis nothing short of radical considering the difficulty or evenimpossibility of achieving such a state in both the short-term andthe long-term. Nevertheless, the concept of utopia has a crucial roleto play in the radical political thought.
First,utopia allows for the expression of hope and desire from a subjectiveand situated standpoint. Given its nature as a collective andpersonal thought experiment, utopia allows individuals to undertake areflection of the current issues within the hypothetical and,therefore, creative mode. This would promote a particularlysubversive association with the present as utopia establishes a spacebetween critical dimension where the object under examination comesup and the teleological dimension where the desirable and possibleare re-invented (Foucault, 1990, 46). Scholars have noted that theconcepts of “transformation” and transgression” would offer anapt explanation of the space where the present and the politicalthought are deliberately separated. In this regard, utopian hope andutopia do not only offer critical hope but rather go beyond thecritical negation of the current economic, social and environmentalconditions so as to elaborate the likely political horizon.
Further,utopian mode may be used in the framing of the new politics throughspatialization of desire. Indeed, Michael Foucault notes the usage ofutopianism in the theorization of the fundamental aspect of politics.He evokes utopianism as the hallmark of true political existence andthe courage that forms the basis for action, as well as becoming anactive being in a world that is thoroughly atomized and violent (Foucault, 1990, 46). Indeed, he noted that utopianism forms thecrucial oasis of imagination where the glimpses of life beyond thecurrent world would be caught, while urging the readers to rise upand act so as to transform or change the globe into one that has freepolitical space. In this regard, utopia forms the basis for the newform of politics.
Moreover,utopianism is known to neutralize or negate the hold that the presenthas, or rather make unfamiliar the all-too-recognizable contourspertaining to the present social relations’ configurations, as wellas the meanings and experiences to which individuals have becomehabituated (Weeks 205). This estrangement would undercut the ascribedstatus of the current social order as a natural artifact, inevitablefuture and necessary development. In this regard, the utopian formcomes as a dereifying technique that allows the present to berelativized and seen a function or result of the human history,thereby, opening up new possibilities for an entirely differentfuture. Utopia would not only offer a chance for individuals todistance themselves from the present order but also momentarilydisable or suspend the habits and epistemologies pertaining to thethought that practicality or appealing to “just facts” would bindindividuals to the present that hold them within the narrowrestrictions of political possibilities and social options.
Lastly,utopianism would also offer moments of desubjectivization anddisidentification. These are the depictions of other worlds’inhabitants that would be figurations pertaining to future modelspertaining to being, which would provide the means that individualscan make themselves strange. In this regard, the fragrant andunabashed otherness of utopia gives it the capacity that is deficientin other analytical devices (Foucault, 1990 56). Apart from offeringchances of dereification and dis-investment that may promote opennessto possibilities pertaining to different and new futures, the broadlydeconstructive function of utopia would also enhance and incite themore specific intellectual and critical capabilities of individuals.The estrangement of individuals from the familiarity of their dailylives would allow utopia to offer them a standpoint within the newform, on which they can make a critical evaluation of the present.Scholars have underlined the fact that an individual may, in somecases, have the capacity to observe the presence of social problems,as well as the magnitude of their impact in a more clear mannerthrough imagining their absence.
Weeks’Support for Utopianism,
Inher book “TheProblem of Work”weeks offers pretty apt reasons why the concept of utopia is not asunattainable as it is made to seem. Indeed, she underlines the notionthat a large number of people feel that instead of wasting time onutopian demands pertaining to shorter hours and higher income (whichare seen as untimely and impractical), it would be imperative thatsupporters of these concepts set their sights on more practical andpolitically feasible goals. Unfortunately, this considerably familiarlogic allows for the writing off of the demands as unrealistic andpotentially dangerous distractions emanating from the small-scale andmodest parameters pertaining to political reform (Weeks, 2011 175).
Insupporting the utopian mode, Weeks underlines the notion that theutopian demand revolves around a political demand that is notnarrowly pragmatic but rather postulates a considerably substantialtransformation of the social relations’ present configuration. Asmuch as the demands may be difficult to achieve within the currentideological and institutional context, their feasibility necessitatesthat some changes are made within the political discourse. Ofparticular note is the fact that it would not only be necessary tochange the policy or program, rather the political practice ofdemanding is fundamentally important. Her central claim revolvesaround the fact that the power pertaining to these demands may bemore appropriately comprehended upon the more enhanced comprehensionof their utopian dimensions.
Inaddition, Weeks borrows heavily from “Ernst Bloch’s “Ontologyof the Not Yet””and questions the premise that utopianism is unrealistic. Shequestions the concept of the real that is the basis of the objectionto utopianism, as well as what “as realism” may constitute thepremise’s sufficient representation. It is noted that theassumption that reality remains constant and that the future cannotdiffer from the situation in the current times is far from realistic.Indeed, realism necessitates that one acknowledges that the future isbased on the present and that nothing much is known pertaining to thefuture. In essence, reality amounts to a process that individualshave the capacity to intervene and effect change (Weeks, 2011 189).
Onthe same note, Weeks offers a distinction between concrete andabstract utopia, where she states that abstract is made up withoutenough regard to the current conditions and trends that have thecapacity to make the utopian demands possible in the future. On theother hand, concrete utopia is created on the basis of thereal-possible, a dream that has its foundation in the historicaltrend and is concerned with the provision of the contents and formsthat have already grown in the present society (Weeks, 2011 193).Hoping amounts to concrete utopianism that takes cognizant of thepresent that has come to be, while not paying attention to the pastbut rather acknowledging the present potentials and historical forcesthat may or may not give rise to a different future.
However,Weeks defense of utopia has been met with immense criticism andchallenges from other scholars. Indeed, liberalists andanti-utopianism have underlined the fact that the proposals thatutopianism makes for the effecting of radical change would be athreat to reason and civilization. Indeed, it is contrasted againstrationalism, which has had its ideals discovered and propagated viareasoned arguments, as well as held using the rational attitudespertaining to impartial judges (Marcuse, 1964 64). Utopianism, onthe other hand, has been having its ideals spread via appealing toemotions, as well as adhered to using passionate attachment. Theutopian dreams pertaining to a substantially better and differentworld are extremely dangerous as they threaten to intoxicate andseduce individuals, thereby upsetting the apparently hard-won adtenuous grasp of reason (Marcuse, 1964 65).
Inconclusion, it is evident that utopianism has a fundamental role toplay in forming the foundation for radical political thought. Indeed,it provides a platform from which individuals can take a look at thepresent and see the ills, as well as the possible alternatives thatwould make their lives so much better than they currently are. Inaddition, utopia allows for the expression of hope and desire from asubjective and situated standpoint. Given its nature as a collectiveand personal thought experiment, utopia allows individuals toundertake a reflection of the current issues within the hypotheticaland, therefore, creative mode. This would promote a particularlysubversive association with the present as utopia establishes a spacebetween critical dimension where the object under examination comesup and the teleological dimension where the desirable and possibleare re-invented. Further, the broadly deconstructive function ofutopia would also enhance and incite the more specific intellectualand critical capabilities of individuals. The estrangement ofindividuals from the familiarity of their daily lives would allowutopia to offer them a standpoint within the new form, on which theycan make a critical evaluation of the present. Nevertheless, theconcept of utopia has faced immense opposition particularly fromliberalists who feel that it may intoxicate individuals to eliminatethe current state that is based on rationality and reason.
Foucault,Michael. TheHistory of Sexuality: An Introduction.New York: Vintage, 1990.
Marcuse,Herbert. One-DimensionalMan: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society.Boston: Beacon Press, 1964.
Weeks,Kathi. TheProblem With Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and PostworkImaginaries.Durham : Duke University Press, 2011